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Highway Hero

by Carol A. Price-Lopata

During my third year as a speaker, giving seminars all over the country, I was driving into Wheeling, West Virginia, to teach a class on self-esteem to 150 women. My background includes being raised by a mother and grandmother who took great pains to teach me that families take care of one another no matter what. I knew I could always count on them when I was in trouble, and they knew they could do the same.

I was driving faster than I should have been because I desperately wanted to make it to Wheeling before the severe rains that had been predicted began to fall. As I saw the sign telling me Wheeling was eight miles away, I speeded up even a bit more, even though a few raindrops had just begun to fall. With no warning, I heard a boom - not too loud, but loud enough to know it wasn't a good sound. When I turned off the radio to further evaluate the sound, it became clear I had a tire problem: probably a flat. I slowed down, knowing from high school driver's education not to brake hard, but knowing still that I needed to get off the road for my safety.

On the side of the road, I looked around, saw nothing but rugged hills, a six-lane highway and very fast traffic. I locked the door, to be safe, and tried to figure out what to do. I did not have a cellular phone, as they were not that common many years ago. Every story I had ever heard about women having bad experiences on the side of the road in strange cities ran through my mind like a movie reel, and I tried to decide if I would be safer staying with the car or walking to the next exit. It was beginning to get dark, and I truly was becoming afraid.

My grandmother taught me as a very little girl that things work out if you keep your head about you, and I was trying very hard to do just that. At that very moment, a large semi passed very fast on my left, causing my car to shudder, and I saw that the directional light was on, indicating he was pulling over in front of me. I could hear his brakes squeal, as he was braking fast and hard. I again thought, 'Am I safer or in more danger?' I could see the truck as it slowly backed up on the shoulder of the road and decided that to be very safe, I would take a precaution I had seen in a movie. I took out a pad in my briefcase and wrote down the name of the trucking company and the Ohio license number, as they both were visible from my car. I put the pad with this information under the driver's seat just in case!

Even though it was now raining quite hard, the driver came running back from the truck to my car and said through my window that I had opened only three inches, that he had seen the tire blow and would be glad to change it. He asked for the car keys to get into the trunk; and although I knew I was about to lose all my safety precautions, it seemed to be my best choice. I gave him the keys. He changed the tire and gave me back the keys. I asked him through the three-inch opening in the window if I could pay him for his kindness. He said, "We drivers in Ohio believe in taking care of women in trouble on the highway." I then asked him for the name of his boss so I could send him or her a letter relaying how wonderful he had been. He laughed a very odd laugh and gave me the name of his boss, a woman, and his card, which had the name of the trucking company, the address and the phone number. I thanked him again, and the now soaking-wet man ran back to the truck. Gratefully, I went on to Wheeling to present my seminar.

Upon returning to Florida, I had a T-shirt made for this man that showed an angel in a truck with the words printed across the picture, "Highway Hero," and sent it to the address on the card. It came back, addressee unknown. I called the number on the card and got a recording saying no such number existed. I called the city newspaper for that town, asked for the editor, explained the dilemma and asked that a letter to the editor be placed in the paper thanking the driver. The editor, who had lived there all his life, said there was no such company in that city. He further investigated and called me back and said there was no such business registered in Ohio. The editor went one step further. He called the state motor vehicle bureau to ask about the license and was told no such plate had ever been issued.

The upshot is that this man, his truck and the company never existed, the "rescue" never happened and I must have been dreaming. But I know I wasn't.

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